Dreaming up dangerous, surreal sports

David Kirke, a pioneer of the Dangerous Sports Club, is credited with the first modern bungee jumping which he accomplished wearing a top hat and tails and holding a bottle of champagne.

Published : Feb 19, 2024 16:41 IST , BENGALURU - 3 MINS READ

Bungee Jumping.
Bungee Jumping. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Bungee Jumping. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

If you think about it, all sports can be dangerous. Boxers, cricketers, footballers, and tennis players have been among those killed in action. Some sports, however, are by definition dangerous. The Dangerous Sports Club (DSC) was popular in the 1970s and 80s for dreaming up dangerous, surreal sports.

David Kirke, a pioneer, is credited with the first modern bungee jumping which he accomplished wearing a top hat and tails and holding a bottle of champagne. It said everything you needed to know about the DSC, an Oxford creation, peopled by the rich and bored who dressed in a particular way, spoke in a particular way and drank tankloads of champagne. It was also the forerunner of alternative sports and extreme sports.

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The DSC’s stunts included steering a carousel horse down a ski slope in the Swiss Alps, piloting an inflatable kangaroo suspended by balloons over the English Channel, skateboarding among the running bulls of Pamplona, and organising a sit-down meal on the rim of an erupting volcano on a Caribbean island.

These are exhilarating to participate in, fun to read about, and irritating if not illegal for those who have a certain concept of sports. Each was a good enough reason for the popularity of the DSC in the years it lasted. The abiding principle, said Kirke, was “one-third recklessness of innocence, tempered with two-thirds recklessness of contempt.”

There was something unmanly (these capers were mostly undertaken by men) about safety and security. Kirke used an elastic rope (borrowed from the military) for that inaugural bungee jump. Years later he said, “We hadn’t tested it or anything like that. We were called the Dangerous Sports Club, and testing it first wouldn’t have been particularly dangerous.”

Bungee jumping (in pic) was inspired by a television documentary about young men jumping off bamboo platforms in Vanuatu, with only a vine tied around one ankle to break their fall. It was a coming-of-age ritual, and the Oxford eccentrics didn’t see any reason not to adapt the practice to establish their manhood. One of the members of the DSC was the New Zealander A. J. Hackett who took it to his country where it has found its home.

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There was a small temptation to try bungee jumping when I was in New Zealand; in fact, one of my journalist friends did a bungee jump — I watched him go and then listened to his tale of valour and thrill. But I chickened out. The main thing going through his mind on that first jump in Bristol, said Kirke, was “Whoooppeee!” I prefer my whoooppees on the ground.

When Kirke died last year (at his home in Oxford, proving once again that often adventurers die in their own beds), he had already been recognised as the father of extreme sports, defined as sporting events or pursuits characterised by high speeds and high risk, operating outside traditional sports and celebrated for their adrenaline-pumping thrills.

All very exciting, no doubt. But give me moderate sports any day; happy to leave my adrenaline unpumped.

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